This guest blog post is written by Michelle Forrest of St John Fisher primary school, who recently engaged her staff in their Learning Powered journey. It is being published as a prelude to Guy Claxton et al’s latest book, and the final in the Learning Power series, which explores building a Learning Powered School. Available for pre-order here.
Thank you, Michelle, for sharing such an insightful blog post. Scattered through the blog post, in italics, are my own reflections as a learning power practitioner – I wonder what yours would be? We hope you find this dialogue useful for your learning powered journey.
We discovered Learning Powers almost by accident while we were looking for ways to improve other areas of our school. Three years on and Learning Powers are an integral part of our school, embedded in a variety of ways with staff, children and parents on board and supportive. This blog is the journey which led us to LPs and the ways we have made it part of our identity.
Our children were generally very well behaved throughout the school but we were conscious of some passive learning and an over-reliance on adult support. We could see that when the one-to-one support wasn’t being given, some children were becoming disruptive to their peers. We decided to review our marking policy to see how we could use feedback to increase independence and identified a working group to look at behaviour.
Becky: This isn’t an uncommon observation for leaders to make in school – Their children are making the grades and running through the motions of school but aren’t fully invested in their learning and are “sleep walking” their way through education. When I spoke with the Head Teacher at West Thornton Academy she said exactly the same thing – The children needed to become active, motivated, independent learners. For her, also, the LPA provided a framework to work towards this.
The behaviour working party had investigated the causes of the disruptive behaviour we had identified and were led to the conclusion that low self-esteem was at the root of the problem. Adults supporting children in order to help them to succeed only reinforced their opinion that they weren’t capable by themselves. These children didn’t believe that they ‘could’ and so they didn’t. We needed to find a way to teach them how to be more resilient, more able to persevere even when they made mistakes or found something hard.
In preparation for a staff meeting, we all read Shirley Clarke’s chapters on Feedback from ‘Outstanding Assessment’ and then shared thoughts on ways forward for feedback and marking. We got lots of ideas for a new systems but something called ‘Learning Powers’ by Guy Claxton had caught all of our attention. Its clear focus on developing independence, resilience and curiosity really resonated with us as a staff and with our aim to empower and engage our children.
We had found a way to increase independence and resilience and enable our children to be proud of themselves and fulfil our vision ‘At St John Fisher we Shine!’
Making it work for us….
As a whole staff, we thought about which skills or LPs we most wanted to develop in our children and we agreed on eight:
- Empathy and Listening
- Questioning and Reasoning
Becky: What a great way to start – to look at the Learning Power framework as a whole staff and decide which Elements of Learning Power and/or Design Principles are most relevant to the children in your setting.
- How could you go about this?
- How do you think this might get “buy in” from the staff?
- After identifying which Elements you most need to deepen what do you think your next step might be?
There is a handy reflection tool at the beginning of Powering Up Children which enables you to reflect on how deep each Design Principle is in your classroom. The Learning Power Pioneers community is taking each of these Design Principles in turn and co-coaching one another to work through these. Find out more about Learning Power Pioneers here.
We then identified key statements and quotes about each.
We allocated each LP to one year group and gave them time to think about it, investigate what it meant and come up with an animal to represent each. Then each week, every class presented their LP to the rest of the school. Some wrote a story, some did drama and some explained in a more traditional ‘assembly’ format. By the end of the Summer term, every power had been introduced to the children and to the parents via newsletter. We were then ready to run with it in the Autumn term. Because the children, with their teachers, had a responsibility for creating LPs, they had ownership of them. They literally decided what each power meant, what it looked like and what they needed to do to achieve it. This wasn’t a top-down directive. The children and staff owned the LPs.
‘Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll learn.’ Benjamin Franklin
Becky: This is such a powerful way to introduce Learning Powers and embed them within your setting. In this example, the children are true agents of change in their learning. They have ownership and understanding over why they are developing Learning Powers. By introducing Learning Powers in this way, Michelle and her team are introducing Learning Power in a “Learning Powered” way – how could you go about this? So that learning power becomes an integral part of your school ethos, not something that is pasted on top.
How we use LPs has developed and grown over the past 3 years and it is now part of the language we use every day in every situation. Highlighting Empathy and Listening has improved our children’s understanding of what ‘respect’ is and what it looks like. Teaching them what Collaboration means has improved pair and group work effectiveness. Absorption is something to aspire to while Planning and Revising help you to reach it. Imagining, Questioning and Reasoning have opened up minds to new possibilities and aspirations. Celebrating Perseverance means mistakes are proof that you’re improving. We celebrate the journey towards learning rather than just the outcome. ‘Learning to learn’ opens the door to success in all areas of life rather than learning to reach the Expected Standard.
Last half term, our school took part in an NAHT Aspire Peer Review with colleagues from local schools and a representative from Edison Learning. During the review, colleagues noted how confidently our children were able to talk about how they were learning and were clearly able to articulate the steps they would take or strategies they would use in order to plan, collaborate, become absorbed, persevere and so on. We already valued the impact LP had had on our children’s self-esteem and resilience but hadn’t realised just how much it had become such an important part of our school identity.
Becky: I have sometimes heard people talk about Learning Power “not working” in their classrooms or schools. I have struggled with this concept – How can Learning Power “not work”?! Surely, it is central to everything we do as educators – It concentrates on the learning process and enables children to see how to deepen and strengthen their capacity as learners.
On reflection, I can see how Learning Power could be tricky to embed – You try a few ideas out, they don’t seem to work – Better to give up and go back to what you know. Someone tries some ideas out without understanding the philosophy and aims behind Learning Power – They are not invested in it working – They let it go – others see this as an example and don’t try themselves (why would they?!) Learning Power would involve shifting your thinking about your role as teacher and how you plan lessons – this takes effort, thought, changing habits – better to be left alone. I have written a blogpost about these shifts in habits here.
Learning Power runs deep. It is multifaceted and, in many ways complex. Embedding learning powered principles takes careful thought, planning, perseverance and strong collaboration as a team. The success of Michelle’s team has relied on all of these aspects. If you are truly interested in deepening learning in this way for your learners, you need to be ready to plan, be committed and ready for a bumpy yet exciting ride! If you’d like to find out more about the Learning Power Approach, read this book by Guy Claxton, explaining the philosophy and evidence behind it.
Below are some gorgeous illustrative examples of how you might go about introducing and embedding the LPA across the school. We invite you to carefully consider:
- How these empower learners?
- How they enable children to deepen their understanding of effective learning?
- When and how you might introduce these ideas? How might you adjust them for your setting?
Whole School Strategies…
Teachers have used LPs in the practice and classrooms in numerous ways to empower our children but below are some examples of how we have embedded into our whole school culture with children, families and staff.
- Learning Power Award:
Our weekly award certificate is now the LP award. Each fortnight, the whole school focuses on a particular LP such as ‘Imagining’ and staff can choose any LP in the other weeks. When announcing the award, every teacher describes how the child has displayed or used LPs that week, reinforcing what the LP is and the impact using it has on learning. We post pictures of the winning children on Class Dojo or Twitter and make it a feature on our weekly newsletter to send the message home to parents too. This weekly award which is shared within school and the wider school community, continually reinforces what LPs are and highlights that ‘learning to learn’ is a key part of our vision. It ensures the aim and language of LPs moves out of the classroom and into the home.
- Early Years
Our youngest children focus on Empathy and Listening during their time in Early Years in order to encourage respect for each other and diversity. The animal for this LP is and elephant so teachers introduced ‘Trunky’, a soft toy who goes home with the child who has shown empathy or listening skills. This introduces children and their families to the LPs at the very start of their school lives.
- Behaviour Management:
We used to have a traffic light behaviour management system where children started in the green light and slid down to amber and red if behaviour was poor. This highlighted the negative behaviours only and was a clear sign to the children and to anybody walking into the classroom who were the ‘naughty’ children. We threw this out and now have eight boards in every classroom, one for each LP. Every child has a laminated picture of themselves or their name ready to be placed on the LP they display. We also created a dojo for each LP so children can get points for using or developing LPs. These can be seen by families immediately, reinforcing the message at home again. Our children are now able to articulate what positive learning behaviours look like and know they will be recognised for using them. A move towards positive behaviour management has empowered our children and behaviour for learning is now a strength in every classroom.
- Learning Power Tracker
Each child has an LP ‘passport’ with a page for each term. Each time they are noticed for using an LP in class, they tick it off. This means they can keep track of which LPs they use more often than others and can focus their attention on those they use less.
When planning units of work, we identify which LP will help the children most and share this with the class. It is also referred to throughout and is part of the success criteria. This helps the children see the LPs in a ‘real life’ situation. It also means teachers can keep track of which LPs they focus on more, or less, often and can adjust the focus accordingly.
- End of Year Reports:
We have a section for LPs on our reports and staff highlight each child’s strengths and areas to target in the coming year. Children do the same. Inclusion on the reports shows how much we value LPs in school and helps parents understand why they are important in helping children to reach their academic targets. A newly introduced mid-year report also gives an equal weighting to attitude to learning and independence as it does to academic progress.
We have not looked back since we first learned about LPs. We have seen a real impact in independence, resilience and in the language the children use about their learning. They know they have a responsibility for their own success and this makes them even more proud of their achievements.
LP is not a gimmick or ‘add-on’ in our school but a central pillar of all learning and behaviour and they have helped us to achieve what we set out to do at the start of our journey… ‘To build a positive learning culture in St John Fisher.’
Becky: Thank you, Michelle, for taking the time to share your Learning Power journey with us and show us the “guts” of your learning process.
If you had any advice for schools leaders about to embark on this journey, what would it be?
My advice to leaders would be:
- Think about why you want to introduce learning powers into your school and discuss this with colleagues before you start. They won’t buy into it unless they understand why it is important and what impact you hope to achieve.
- Involve all members of the school community in creating what learning powers looks like in your particular setting. You have to own it before you become invested.
- Communicate- with home, children, colleagues. Make sure they hear- and keep hearing- that you are committed to learning powers and understand why.
- Take your time with it; give staff and children the opportunity to reflect, try things out and then celebrate their successes
- Think bigger. We talk about our learning powers in so many different situations now and colleagues consider how new initiatives or concepts can be reflected through them.
- Evaluate- regularly returning to why and how we use learning powers has helped us to be sure they are right for us, working for the children and still high profile.